Sunday, 1 November 2015

To Love Without Seeking Reward.....

          In one of Father Richard Rohr's recent meditations the point was made that:

"Even the best of human love is filled with self-seeking."  (Richard Rohr's Meditations - Dorothy Day: Crying Out for Justice - Wednesday, 28.10.2015)

          As part of a series of ongoing communications between Vincent and myself, he offered the following quote from one of David Hume's, "Selected Essays" on the question of love. In the essay Hume considers the commonly held belief that selfishness is our basic condition.

"All is self-love. Your children are loved only because they are yours: your friend for a like reason; and your country engages you only so far as it has a connection with yourself. Were the idea of self removed, nothing would affect you: you would be altogether unactive and insensible: or, if you ever give yourself any movement, it would only be from vanity, and a desire of fame and reputation to this same self."

But Hume then turns this master-myth around by making the counterintuitive and wonderfully ennobling point that vanity is proof of virtue rather than vice — a natural expression of how highly we value the qualities that make a person lovable, admirable, and a worthy member of society. He writes:

"There are two things which have led astray those philosophers that have insisted so much on the selfishness of man. In the first place, they found that every act of virtue or friendship was attended with a secret pleasure; whence they concluded, that friendship and virtue could not be disinterested. But the fallacy of this is obvious. The virtuous sentiment or passion produces the pleasure, and does not arise from it. I feel a pleasure in doing good to my friend, because I love him; but do not love him for the sake of that pleasure."

          The second thing to which Hume refers falls outside the scope of this post, and is not, therefore, quoted here. I am very inclined to the view, as is Vincent I believe, that David Hume is correct. But how can I be certain about the correctness of that conclusion? How do I choose between these apparently opposing views? In the end I can only decide the issue based on my own life's experiences.
          It must be well known by regular readers of Gwynt that many years ago I felt obliged, in the cause of restoring by spiritual sanity, to seek help after three years of living with a very sick alcoholic. I entered a treatment centre. There have been times since then that I have asked myself the question, "Why did I do that? Why did I subject myself to that very painful process of psycho-spiritual recovery?" I must add, and that right hastily, that I have never doubted the rightness of that decision. Nevertheless, the questions remain, even though I have offered many a possible answer to those questions.
          During my six-and-a-half weeks in that centre I did as was suggested by my counsellors, even though on occasion I looked askance as some of their suggestions, and even rebelled against one suggestion. All the time I was there I took it on trust that these people knew what they were talking about, and had acquired spiritual wisdom that I, without realising it, was subconsciously seeking. Like so much of my life, I have always felt that I was being led to an inevitable conclusion. Now that may sound odd to many, but that is the only description I can offer for the sense that all doors were being closed to me, leaving just the one I eventually entered. Of course, there was always an element of choice, but the alternative to the choice I actually made was, and has always remained, unacceptable.
          Over the time that has passed since that decision to walk the path of recovery, I have learned through experience that there is a part of me that is not egoistic, is not of the lower self as it has been named. There is another and higher aspect to our being, whatever we may choose to call it in our stumbling attempts to describe its presence. It is that, which one writer has described as that which calls to us from the future. It is a blueprint for wholeness; and C.G.Jung has named the archetype for wholeness by the single word, God.
          Whilst I do not doubt that actions dominated by my lower, egoistic self may always have an element of selfishness attached, there will always remain a part of me, a non-egoistic self, that knows of actions that are carried out from a sense of non-selfish love. St. Ignatius Loyola prayed:

"Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will."

This was written by a soldier, and filled with meaning that a dedicated soldier would understand. Yet when this was pointed out to me, I was filled with a sense of deep loss that demanded I probe deeper. As I let this prayer, and its undisputed (by me) origins and its sometimes twisted outcomes sink into my soul, I began to be filled with a joy of discovery. For this prayer describes completely the ethos of my pilgrimage through life. As Vincent has pointed out, there is mystical experience. One could speculate as to its origins or meaning. Or one could simply enjoy it.
          That is my experience of love and life. By that I stand.


  1. I'm starting to wonder why I loose my 1st comment to you. I was saying and am saying again, even if I feel very vulnerable:
    " To bless ALL that comes our way is God's will? An eye for an eye? I bless the person that/who(?) wants to kill me and at the same time bless myself unknowingly if I happen to kill in defense?" For now my answer to this is YES.

    1. Hullo Ellena; I assume your comment refers to the prayer of St. Ignatius? I find that my feelings/instincts are somewhat confused when I consider your comment and its possible implications. The difficulty here is that the prayer clearly has strong Christian connotations, obviously, and echoes - at least in part - things reputedly said by Jesus. But, and it is a big 'but', I have serious doubts as to whether He was referring to happenings in the outer, physical world. When I read that prayer, and strip it of its militaristic overtones, I think of the spiritual experience of my inner, searching self for healing, or wholeness.

  2. Thank youfor this post, Tom.
    The subject of love -selfish or unselfish, Eros or Agape - is a minefield, isn't it, whichever angle one approaches it from. It's probably the subject I've given more thought to and struggled with all my life. As both you and Vincent have said, one can only understand things through one's own experience. The conclusion I've gradually come to is that the love called 'selfish' which we all experience throughout our lives, with its side-effects of possessiveness, jealousy, anxiety, envy, regret, disillusion, pain etc. - a list longer than those possible side-effects listed on boxes of medicines meant to be good for you - is what we inherit from our ancestors, personal and universal. But the other kind, the unadulterated real McCoy, is something we need to arrive at, perhaps by a slow process differing for each individual. For some, it might be like hacking a path through the jungle. For others, it might be through a long voyage on a winding river. And so on.

    As for: " that of knowing that we do your will" my feeling is that since it is impossible for me to know what God's Will might be, I can't assume that I'm obeying it since my judgement is unreliable. All I can do is ask questions of God and hope that answers arrive in forms that I can understand. And I don't think that what's written in the Bible is necessarily so, or that it draws an accurate image of God. The God I trust is outside of all that is said or written and if that sounds contradictory, I fully agree.

    1. Hullo Natalie; Dealing first with the first paragraph of your comment, I have to say that you have expressed those thoughts in a manner that I feel deeply appealing. Somehow, you have thrown even more light on what I have struggled to bring into consciousness. To express my response in terms of my egoistic self and Higher Self, is to say that it would appear that a form of conversion, or perhaps re-direction, from egoistic love towards that Love which is ever-present but hidden, is a necessary goal in our spiritual lives. It never seems to be a straightforward journey.

      As for that which may be considered as 'God's will,' I again agree with you. In the end, I feel one must honestly address our intuitions in this matter, and do the best we can. As I have said elsewhere, I believe intention counts for a very great deal. And yes, our judgements will always have elements of doubt attached, if only because we see as through a darkened veil. And yes! again to your final sentence.

  3. Unselfish love is the only love that discards its adjective. Good thing too, or it would be impossible. And yet, people incapable of unselfish love can't reliably love at all, or be generous or kind without expectation of profit. Unselfish love is one of many impossibilities we get to enjoy in life. It shows we go beyond possibility sometimes and defy our egoist nature to make a better world.

    1. Hullo Geo; Whenever I write a script and put it 'out there' to be read, I am invariably assailed by doubts and misgivings as to how it will be received. Yet time and again, experience shows that I have rarely any need to be anxious, because the responses are always uplifting, supportive and enlightening. Your comment has cast a slant on my chosen subject that had not occurred to me. Thank you (and all who respond on Gwynt) for your inputs.

  4. “Nevertheless, the questions remain, even though I have offered many a possible answer to those questions.”

    And isn’t there a special pleasure, too, in unanswered, or unanswerable questions? Isn’t this what we call “awe”?

    I read what you say, and feel it.

    1. Hullo Vincent; Yes, there is indeed a special pleasure in unanswered and unanswerable questions, particularly the latter. Somehow, it seems to illuminate our place in the order of things without putting us down And that is part of the spectrum of love. Thank you.

  5. Hi Tom,
    Maybe in realty human existence lies in between, for survival requires a combination of both “selfish genes”, and those likely to engender a cooperative, loving and even altruistic nature -which one might also associate as you say with the higher self.
    Ample evidence exists also in nature of this combination to some degree combined with the rather brutal quest where necessary for survival. Hence I think one can argue there is an element of both in reality, is all around us, but hopefully the better traits from our reflections and other means gain the ascendancy most of the time. But I also think it would be foolish to think we are in some sort of battle over our “selfish genes”, who to some degree may protect us from “burn out” and so forth so I think it more a question of finding the right balance.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Lindsay; Once again I can find nothing to dispute, even gently, with what you have said. At this moment I feel that in some collective way, a great deal of 'knowingness' is being shared by everyone meeting here. It is as if those fears I expressed to Geo have been burned away by the sunshine of shared enlightenment, something to which we all have access, if we only seek it.

  6. It seems to me that if we are lucky enough to mature as we age, then selfishness and vanity drop away like winter coats on a warm afternoon. The purpose they served is no longer relevant to our needs.

  7. I'm just glad you found Lucy, peanut butter and all.

    1. Thank you Bruce. I agree, and I get to have the occasional banana as well. :)